Notebook, 1993-

Manual of Oriental Antiquities - Babelon, Ernest. Librarian of the Department of Medals and Antiques in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Manual of Oriental Antiquities, including the Architecture, Sculpture, and Industrial Arts of Chaldæ, Assyria, Persia, Syria, Judæ, Phœnicia, and Carthage. London: H. Grevel and Co. 1906.

The Chaldæn -- Assyria -- Elamites (Archeological Discoveries at Souza) -- The Phœnicians & The Cypriots -- The Hittites


Assyrian Architecture

Assyria, because she lies nearer to the mountains than Chaldæ, and because the use of stone, without ever being exclusive, was more frequent in northern than in southern Mesopotamia, has left us important ruins which have already been partly explored, and which allow us to reconstruct the forms of her architecture, without material gaps, from the ninth to the seventh century before our era. [p. 50]....

It was also in Chaldæ, as we have seen, that those towers in stages [zikkurat] were invented, painted in bright and varied colours, which constitute one of the original features of Mesopotamian architecture. If the staged towers of Mugheir, Tello and Abu Shahrein, are too much destroyed for us to be able to restore their different steps except in thought, we are sure, nevertheless, that these old Chaldæn edifices were similar to the towers the lower stories of which were excavated at Kouyunjik, Nimroud, Khorsabad, and finally at Babylon, where stood, from the remotest antiquity, the two famous temples called E-saggil and E-zida and where Nebuchadnezzar built, according to the testimony of his inscriptions, the famous Tower of the Seven Lights. Who can say whether this architectural form was not inspired by the sight of the pyramids in steps of the Nile valley? In any case the Greek historians agree in affirming that the staged towers were of a height comparable to that of the loftiest Egyptian pyramids, and the mass of the mounds of débris which represent the ruins of these towers is a sure warrant of this assertion. Birs-Nimroud at Babylon is still, at the present day, 235 feet high, and it has certainly lost at least half of its primitive height. The ruin of Babil is still 130 feet high. What European monument is there, even if built of hewn stone, which, after crumbling in upon itself, would reach 130 feet after thirty centuries of ruin and decay? It is improbable, then, that Strabo deserves to be taxed with exaggeration when he assigns the height of a stadium of 591 ft. 9 in., to the temple of Bel at Babylon. Herodotus describes the same building in the following manner: "This temple is square, and each side is two stadia in length [1,183 ft. 6 in.]. In the centre is a massive tower, of one stadium in [p. 73] length and breadth; on this tower stands another tower, and another again upon this, and so on up to eight. A spiral staircase has been built outside leading round all the towers. Towards the middle of the ascent there is a room, and there are seats upon which visitors rest; upon the last tower stands a large shrine, in which is a large bed with rich coverings, and near it a golden table." Modern excavations enable us to affirm that this description is exact in all points, and that all the staged towers of Assyria and Chaldæ were constructed upon the same principle.

The zikkurat of the palace at Khorsabad, placed to the east of the seraglio buildings, has still at the present day three complete steps and the beginning of a fourth; the first describes on the ground a square of 141 ft. each way; each stage is 20 feet high, which gives us reason to believe that the structure was as high as it was broad at the base--a peculiarity already noted by Herodotus and Strabo in the temple of Bel. The stages laid bare by the French excavations were still partly coloured by means of enameled stucco, the lowest stage white, the second black, the third reddish purple, the fourth blue. Among the ruins of the tower were found numerous fragments of enameled bricks, coloured vermilion, silver grey and gold, which proves that the tower had seven stages of different colours. It has been remarked that Herodotus [i. 98], gives to the fortress of Ecbatana, in Media, the arrangement of a gigantic tower in stages, the colours of which are similar to those of the zikkurat of Khorsabad. There were, according to him, seven concentric enclosures, the most spacious being as large as Athens, while the [p. 75] battlements of each enclosure rose higher than those outside them. "The battlements of the first wall are of white stone; those of the second of black stone; those of the fourth blue; those of the fifth vermilion. . . . The two last walls are plated, the one with silver, the other with gold."

The explorers of Mugheir thought that they recognized, in spite of the bad state of the ruins, that the zikkurat of Ur was constructed in such a way that the stages did not rise exactly in the middle of the square platform of the lower stage which served as their base; they were nearer to one of the sides, so that they present on one side much narrower terraces than on the other three. This observation is confirmed by a bas-relief in the British Museum, unfortunately very rough, in which, however, we distinguish clearly the greater width of the terraces on one side and their corresponding narrowness on the other. On the other hand the scope of each terrace proves that it ascended like a screw, and that there was no staircase cut in each of the stages to put them in communication with each other. This is, moreover, what is observed at Khorsabad: the ascent to the summit of the ruins of the fourth stage is by a quadrangular sloping path which mounts gently as it winds round in a spiral form. [p. 75]

Diodorus Siculus informs us that the top of staged towers was occupied by statues, for which the zikkurat would only form a sort of pedestal: "At the summit of the ascent," he says, "Semiramis placed three golden statues wrought with the hammer." These statues were perhaps in the interior of the sanctuary which generally crowned the building; everything makes it probable also that little chapels were constructed at each stage in the thickness of the structure, and that each of them was consecrated to the stellar deity of whom the colour of the stage was emblematic. The chapel on the summit was covered by a gilded cupola, which glittered under the glorious sunlight of the pure eastern sky, and dazzled all beholders. Nebuchadnezzar relates in his inscriptions that he overlaid the dome of the sanctuary of Bel Marduk "with plates of wrought gold so that it shone like the day.' Does not Herodotus tell us that the last stage of the citadel of Ecbatana was gilded? Finally, Taylor picked up among the ruins on the summit of the zikkurat at Abu Shahrein, a large quantity of thin plates of gold, still furnished with the gilded nails, which had served to fix them to the walls.

Besides these sanctuaries erected on the top of staged towers, in which the priests passed the night in watching the courses of the stars, there were other temples not provided with similar basements. Thus, on a bas-relief from the palace of Sargon, we see a representation of the pillage of the temple of the god Haldia at Musasir, in Armenia [fig. 54]. This sanctuary, built upon a terrace like that of a palace, has a façade decorated with a triangular pediment, like a Greek temple. Instead of a portico with columns to support the pediment, there are thick pilasters to the number of six, adorned at intervals with projecting horizontal lines, and with disks, which are seen upon the façade also, and may be taken for votive bucklers. Between the two middle pilasters is the door of the temple, the opening of which is enclosed by an architrave in stone; on each side of the door and of the same height as it, are two colossal genii in human form, carved in stone and holding lances, the points of which rise even higher than the pillars; behind them are lions; lastly, some distance in front of the door, two gigantic basins, probably of bronze, resting on tripods, recall the great vessel found before the façade of the palace of Tello, the brazen sea in the temple of Solomon, the vase from the temple of Amathus: they were basins for lustral water.

The description given by Herodotus and the author of Bel and the Dragon of the famous temple of Bel-Marduk, [p. 77] in Babylon, acquaints us somewhat closely with the interior arrangement of the chapel which crowned the zikkurat. There was nothing, Herodotus relates, in the way of furniture but a bed and a golden table; the walls were paneled with plates of gold, silver, and ivory. The evidence of the Greek historian is confirmed by the text of the cuneiform inscriptions: "I conceived the idea," says Nebuchadnezzar, "of restoring E-saggil, the temple of Marduk. I had the tallest cedars brought from Lebanon; the sanctuary of E-kua, in which the god dwells, was covered with cedar beams and overlaid with gold and silver." Elsewhere relating the construction of the tower of Borsippa, where stood the temple of E-zida consecrated to the god Nebo, the same prince expresses himself as follows: "In the middle of Borsippa I rebuilt E-zida, the eternal house. I raised it to the highest degree of magnificence with gold, silver, other metals, stone, enameled bricks, beams of pine and cedar wood. I covered with gold the wood of Nebo's resting-place. The posts of the door of oracles were plated with silver. I encrusted with ivory the posts, the threshold and the lintel of the door of the resting-place. I covered with silver the cedar posts of the door of the women's chamber." On the golden table in the temple of Marduk, Nebuchadnezzar lays, as he recounts himself, offerings of every kind: honey, cream, milk, refined oil; to draw upon himself heavenly blessings he pours out great draughts of the wine of different countries into the goblet of Marduk, and Zarpanit the Babylonian Astarte. [Lenormant and Babelon, Hist. anc. de l'Orient, v. iv., p . 412]. [p. 78]




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